Editor’s Note: This is the first post in what will become a regular column here on The Film Stage titled Off Stage. The intent of Off Stage is to expose the average movie-goer to films that were otherwise unheard-of or only made a small splash in the mainstream. There are many incredible films produced all the time that for various reasons only get a very limited domestic release if any release at all. Unlike your loyal film-geeks here at The Film Stage, not everyone is able to follow everything put to celluloid and we want you to enjoy all the films we do. Stay tuned to The Film Stage for coverage and reviews on all the great films you didn’t hear about.
“Once, not long ago, a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this. It was not that important.”
The Alexandria Police Ceremonial Orchestra arrives in Israel at the request of the Arab Cultural Center in Peta Tikva to play at their grand opening. With the potential disbanding of the Orchestra, the stoic leader and conductor Colonel Tawfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabai) is determined to make the trip a success and bring honor to the Orchestra. Despite his best efforts the band runs into problems immediately upon arrival. The band is stranded in a foreign land unable to reach anyone who could help them. Attempting to find transportation on their own, the Arabic/Hebrew language barrier mistakenly sends them to a small empty town in the Israeli desert called Betah Tikva and not the Petah Tikva that invited them to play. With no more buses until morning and no hotels in the town the band finds themselves marooned for the night dependent on the kindness of strangers. A group of Arab men stuck in an Israeli town provokes thoughts of conflict and turmoil. However we are shown that even in the midst of a problem as large as Israeli/Arabic conflict that we are all cut from the same cloth and the emotions and personalities that make us who we are transcend political and religious boundaries.
Check out the rest of the review below
Israeli writer-director Eran Kolirin seamlessly drops the audience into a deeply personal and optimistic comedy-drama that appears to be an alternate reality where the cultural differences among the characters are the irrelevant. It doesn’t focus, or even mention for that matter, on any political or religious statements. The film really shines in the depth of the characters in the writing and the expertly executed acting of the cast as it is a heavily character driven plot. Kolirin slowly and methodically steps us through the lonely unfulfilled lives and quirky personalities of Tawfiq and Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) as well as a few of the band members and unexpected kind Israeli strangers that took them in for the night.
Tawfiq is the epitome of discipline and restraint as he is the proud and seemingly emotionless leader of the group. With unrelenting politeness and formality he displays a cold and harsh exterior. However during his exchange with Dina, the town cafe owner, we discover under his cold exterior he is a troubled old man with a broken heart. Dina is an attractive, blunt and rough skinned Israeli women who has passed her prime. She lives her life without regret or permission and calls it as it is. This type of woman is a sharp deviation from the subservient and subdued personalities of the arabic women the Egyptian men are used to. This is starkly apparent when Dina offers to keep a few of the men at her place for the night and in response to her offer Tawfiq asks, “Will your husband agree to that?” and she laughs at him as if looking on his very conservative Arabic ideals as a quaint afterthought from a time long ago. Throughout their meeting that night we see Dina drawn to Tawfiq. Not really drawn to him out of love but more for a longing to fill a gap that has been empty for a long time. While she is tough and self sufficient she too needs the comfort and companionship that we all find ourselves needing in the end.
The youngest member of the band, Haled (Saleh Bakri), is constantly being scolded by Tawfiq and appears greatly out of place. He considers himself a ladies man and uses pickup lines that are executed awkwardly with his broken English and even goes as far as singing to a girl he just met at the ticket booth at the bus station. His character seems shallow and two-dimensional until, in a specifically poignant moment of the film, he coaches a young Israeli man as if he was a marionette through the steps of approaching a woman for the first time.
The depth and color of the characters in The Band’s Visit will draw you in and keep you interested for the duration of what at times can seem like a silent film. There is little background noise, as the town of Betah Tikva is a small and desolate town in the desert, and the score is hardly there at all. However the lack of music and the absence of sound is choreographed perfectly with acting that is performed so well that even the lack of dialog or action seeps emotion and meaning for the story.
The film was a very strong contender for the Motion Picture Academy’s Best Foreign Film award, however, due to the ridiculous and irrelevant rules of the Academy it was disqualified from submission due to the fact that English is spoken too often during the film. The only reason there is so much English spoken in the film is because the two groups of people, Israeli and Arabic, do not speak the same language natively and through out much of the world English is the bridging international language that is used. This isn’t only an obvious fact in the real world but it is a plot device used through out the film in character development. Being denied a very well deserved position as a contender for the Academy award not only denied it a chance at award recognition but assured that much of the American audience would never hear of the film as well.
The Band’s Visit is a witty and beautiful character study that is so understated and perfectly executed that it glides you through the story enabling you to look at the characters as humans and not people with political and religious bias. We are all looking for that person to end our loneliness or that thing that will make us complete. But maybe, as one character states in the movie, this is all we get. Not a big finish or a dramatic end but the quiet and unnoticed reality of who we are when no one else is around. Not happy, not sad. Just a small room, yourself, and tons of loneliness.
Have you seen this film, what did you think of it?